Hail, Caesar!: The Coen Brothers take us to classic Hollywood once again

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 12.51.56 PMVerdict: The Coen Brothers go exploring 1950s Hollywood, and they deliver the best film of 2016 so far.

Grade: A

“Blessed be father, for I have sinned.” This line that opens the new Coen Brothers film also opens its trailer. The sin, however, is that the trailer sells “Hail, Caesar!” shorter than what it is. This is misleading, but it isn’t entirely a bad thing at the end of the day.

The trailer proposes essentially a film set in 1950s Hollywood about a heist, the kidnapping of a big Hollywood star, played by George Clooney, and a studio that can’t finish its main movie of the year. “

Hail, Caesar!” really is, though, a day and a night in the life of a man who “fixes” all problems of a studio, where one of the problems he faces happens to be said kidnapping, even though it isn’t the main plot point like the trailer leads us to believe.

It is a great thing that “Hail, Caesar!” isn’t just about a heist. Without having to focus exclusively on the crime, the Coen Brothers are free to paint the whole 1950s movie studio atmosphere.

Our main character, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), must deal with incredible brush strokes of comedy, satire and mystery. In fact, Eddie seems to be constantly weaving in and out of film genres: noir, musical, melodrama; it’s all here.

The second scene of the movie, for instance, shows Eddie in his car, rain falling in the night, and his voice over, describing to us he’s the man who “fixes things.” He walks out of the car and goes inside a house to rescue a woman who is drunk and about to throw her career away. The scene isn’t just a perfect introduction to Eddie, but also an incredible homage to the noir genre.

The Coen Brothers have assembled a star cast in “Hail, Caesar!.”  Performance highlights include Channing Tatum as an actor in a musical, where in a rather long, but spectacular dance scene, Tatum shows off all his dancing skills. The scene is fantastic and a rare opportunity to see these directors who are famous for their crime stories give us such a well-performed and classic musical scene.

Another highlight comes when Clooney’s character, Baird Whitlock, tries to explain Marx to Eddie. Eddie outright rejects all of it and sends Whitlock back to the set, because, of course, nobody is the least interested in communism around this place where millions are spent every day.
Because of the openness of the plot, the film does a great job of transporting us to the fictional studios of Capital Pictures. Many scenes aren’t about moving the story forward, but rather concerned with showing us a complete world, and giving us time to explore and savor it.

At first, these scenes may throw you off-balance, as if a train had suddenly stopped moving, but the Coen Brothers are doing something most directors don’t know how to do: they are inviting you to look around. The earlier you accept this invitation, the more enjoyable “Hail, Caesar!” is.

Of course, these choices to suspend the plot won’t make you stay on the edge of your seat like “Fargo.” The structure here is different than most films you’ll see this year, or even in the Coens’ filmography, but it’s a change that’s very welcome in an age where most films feel the same.

On the other hand, it’s hard to say “Hail Caesar!” surpasses “Fargo” and “Barton Fink,” Coens’ first film about moviemaking itself. “Fargo” is an extremely well-told, dark, pessimistic crime story, while “Barton Fink” is one of the best, yet most symbolic, films about a writer’s worst nightmare: writer’s block.

“Hail Caesar!” doesn’t power you forward through the story with suspense like “Fargo,” nor attempts to tackle any great existential truth as “Barton Fink,” and may not make you laugh as hard as in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Why then does “Hail Caesar!” deserve an A and your attention? Because average directors may make many average films before making a great one. Great directors may, once in awhile, make a film that isn’t their new masterpiece. However, it’s different and fantastic enough to make it worth every admission price out there, along with a DVD purchase.

The Coen Brothers are simply this: two of the greatest filmmakers our generation is lucky to see their work in theaters, not just in a DVD decades later on a small TV screen.